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In the Westminster system, developed in the United Kingdom, there are generally three readings of a bill as it passes through the stages of becoming, or failing to become, legislation. Some of these readings may be formalities rather than actual debate.
The procedure dates back to the centuries before literacy was widespread. Since many members of Parliament were illiterate, the Clerk of Parliament would read aloud a bill to inform members of its contents. By the end of the 16th century, it was practice to have the bill read on three occasions before it was passed.
In the Israeli Knesset, private member bills do not enter the house at first reading. Instead, they are subject to a preliminary reading, where the members introducing the bill present it to the Knesset, followed by a debate on the general outlines of the bill followed by a vote on whether to send it to committee to be prepared for first reading or to remove it from the agenda.
Typically, in the United States, the title of the bill is read and the bill is immediately assigned to a committee. The bill is then considered by committee between the first and second readings. In the United States Senate and most British-influenced legislatures, the committee consideration occurs between second and third readings.
In most non Westminster-style legislatures, a vote is taken on the general outlines of the bill before being sent to committee.
However, in the Australian Senate, the question on the first reading is always moved immediately after introduction (which is a separate motion altogether) or receipt from the House of Representatives and may be voted on. Amendments to or debate on the first reading is not permitted, except for bills subject to section 53 of the Constitution (i.e. appropriation and money bills), in which case debate is permitted. This exception is necessary because section 53 gives senators the right to move requests to the House of Representatives for amendments to a financial bill (to which the Senate is not allowed to amend) at any stage of consideration of the bill, including on the first reading.
The first readings of most ordinary bills are almost always a formality and are passed "on the voices". In extremely rare circumstances however, the Senate may vote against the first reading, which prevents the bill from proceeding further. This has happened as recently as June 2021, when the Ministerial Suitability Commission of Inquiry Bill 2021 (Cth), introduced by Greens Senator Larissa Waters in relation to the 1988 rape allegation against the Attorney-General Christian Porter, was narrowly negatived in a division.
Similar arrangements are in place in the parliaments of the states and territories.
In the House of Commons of Canada, in addition to the usual introduction of a bill by a member for first reading, a member of the cabinet may move a motion to appoint or to instruct a committee to prepare a bill.
Republic of Ireland
- introduction by a private member moving a motion "that leave be given to introduce" the bill—the bill goes to second stage if the motion is carried
- presentation on behalf of either the government (unlimited numbers) or a parliamentary group (one at a time per group in the Dáil, three in the Seanad)—the bill automatically goes to second stage
In the Israeli Knesset, the committee consideration occurs between first and second readings and (for private member bills) between preliminary and first readings, and the first reading includes a debate on the general outlines of the bill followed by a vote on whether or not to send it to committee.
In New Zealand, once a bill passes first reading it is normally referred to a select committee. However, the government can have a bill skip the select committee stage by a simple majority vote in Parliament.
Even if the first reading does not require a formal vote, a bill can nonetheless be defeated on first reading if a member introduces it and no one seconds it.
In the Polish Sejm, the first reading comprises a debate on the general outlines of the bill. Notably, only constitutional amendment bills, money bills, electoral law bills, and law code bills have their first reading at a plenary session of the Sejm; all other bills have their first reading occur in committee, unless the Marshal of the Sejm decides to refer them to the plenum.
In the Russian State Duma, the first reading includes a debate on the general outlines of the bill followed by a vote on whether or not to send it to committee.
In both Houses of the British Parliament, Bills introduced by the Government or by MPs and Lords who won the Private Members' Ballot automatically receive a first reading without the need of being discussed or voted on; the same applies for Bills brought from the other House (for example, a Bill which has completed all its stages in the House of Lords is immediately brought to the House of Commons, where it receives a first reading).
Bills introduced under the Ten Minute Rule are subject to a debate lasting not more than ten minutes (equally divided between a supporter and an opponent), followed by a vote is held on the motion "That leave be granted to bring in" the Bill; the latter receives a first reading only if the motion is carried.
After a Bill has been read a first time, it is ordered to be printed.
A second reading is the stage of the legislative process where a draft of a bill is read a second time.
In most Westminster-style legislatures, a vote is taken on the general outlines of the bill before being sent to committee. In most non-Westminster-style legislatures, the bill's detailed provisions are considered in the second reading, and then voted on clause by clause.
Republic of Ireland
In the Oireachtas, the second reading is referred to as "second stage", though the subheading "second reading" is used in Dáil standing orders, and the motion at second stage is still "that the Bill is to be read a second time". A bill introduced in one house enters the other house at second stage, except that the Seanad second stage is waived for Dáil consolidation bills. Once the bill passes second stage it is referred to a select committee of that house or taken in committee stage by the whole house.
In the Knesset, the bill's detailed provisions are considered in the second reading, and then voted on clause by clause. However, continuous stretches of clauses without any proposed amendments (which includes different wordings for the same clause written in the original bill), are voted as a single bloc. The starting point for the bill considered in second reading is its post-committee consideration text, which can vary widely from the bill voted on in first reading, even to the point of mergers and splits.
In New Zealand, once a bill passes a second reading it is then considered clause-by-clause by the whole Parliament. If a majority of Parliament agree, the bill can be considered part-by-part, saving considerable time. Because most bills must have majority support to pass a second reading, it is now very rare for a bill to be considered clause-by-clause.
In the Polish Sejm, the second reading comprises a consideration of the committee's report on the bill (as committee consideration between first and second readings), and an introduction of any proposed amendments, although the Sejm's standing orders do not provide for a clause by clause vote on the bill itself, or on any amendment, during the second reading. If amendments are introduced to a bill, it is returned for further committee consideration between second and third readings unless the Sejm decides otherwise.
In the Russian State Duma, the bill's detailed provisions are considered in the second reading, and then voted on clause by clause.
In both Houses of the British Parliament the second reading includes a debate on the general outlines of the bill, followed by a vote on the motion "that the Bill be now read a second time" (or sometimes on a wrecking amendment to that motion). If the motion is carried, the Bill is then sent either to a Standing Committee or to a Committee of the Whole House, where it is considered and voted on clause by clause.
In the United States Senate, a bill is either referred to committee or placed on the Calendar of Business after second reading. No vote is held on whether to read the bill a second time. In U.S. legislatures where consideration in committee precedes second reading, the procedure varies as to how a bill reaches second reading. In Illinois, for example, legislation is automatically read a second time, after which amendments are in order.
A third reading is the stage of a legislative process in which a bill is read with all amendments and given final approval by a legislative body.
In legislatures whose procedures are based on those of the Westminster system, the third reading occurs after the bill has been amended by committee and considered for amendment at report stage (or, in Israel's case, second reading).
In most bicameral legislatures, a bill must separately pass the third reading in both chambers. Once that happens, it is sent on for promulgation, such as royal assent in the Westminster system or signing by the president or governor in the U.S. model.
In some bicameral legislatures, such as the Parliament of Poland or of the Czech Republic, a bill must pass three readings in the lower house, but only one reading in the upper house, at which the bill may be passed unchanged, amended, or rejected; and if the bill is not passed unchanged by the upper house, it is returned to the lower house, which may impose its original version by a supermajority, and is sent to promulgation after passing both chambers. This "imperfect" procedure requires that all bills must be introduced to the lower house, although this may be mitigated by giving the upper house the right to submit bills to the lower.
In a unicameral legislature, after passing the third reading in the sole chamber, the bill goes on directly for promulgation.
Republic of Ireland
In the Oireachtas of Ireland, the equivalent of the third reading is referred to as the "fifth stage" or "final stage". The motion is "That the Bill do now pass", except that the Seanad motion for a money bill is "That the Bill be returned to the Dáil". When a bill passes one house, it is sent to the other house and enters at second stage. After both houses have passed the bill, it is sent to the President of Ireland to be signed into law.
In the Polish Sejm, the third reading comprises a presentation of the amendments passed in second reading (or of a second committee report on the bill that was returned to committee after second reading), and a voting sequence: first on a motion to reject the bill (if one is introduced), then on the amendments introduced in second reading, and a final vote on the bill as amended.
In both Houses of the British Parliament, after a Bill has been reported from the Committee to which it was assigned, consideration of the proposal moves to the so-called "Report Stage", during which further amendments may be table and voted on. After Report Stage has ended, a debate is held on the final Bill, as amended, followed by a vote on the motion "That the Bill be now read a third time". If the motion is carried, the Bill is passed.
- Acts of Parliament in the United Kingdom § Stages of a bill
- Bill (law)
- Parliamentary procedure
- Separation of powers
- "A guide for Ministerial and Departmental Staff : 9.4 Overview and history associated with the stages of a Bill" (PDF). Parliament of Western Australia. 2021. pp. 58–59. Archived from the original (PDF) on 17 November 2021. Retrieved 17 November 2021.
- Elder, David Russell, ed. (2018). "10. Legislation". House of Representatives practice (7th ed.). Canberra: Parliament of Australia. p. 357. ISBN 978-1-74366-654-8. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
As no question is proposed or put, no debate can take place at the first reading stage.
- Laing, Rosemary, ed. (2016). "Chapter 13—Financial legislation". Odgers' Australian Senate practice (14th ed.). Canberra: Parliament of Australia. p. 365. ISBN 978-1-76010-503-7. Retrieved 24 June 2023.
The motion for the first reading of bills which the Senate may not amend, unlike the equivalent stage of amendable bills, may be debated. This variation in respect of non-amendable bills is necessary because, in compliance with the provision of section 53 of the Constitution that a request for an amendment may be made at any stage, requests may be moved on the motion for the first reading of such a bill.
- Laing, Rosemary, ed. (2016). "Chapter 12—Legislation". Odgers' Australian Senate practice (14th ed.). Canberra: Parliament of Australia. p. 310. ISBN 978-1-76010-503-7. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
The motion for the first reading is put and determined without amendment or debate, except in relation to a bill which, under section 53 of the Constitution, the Senate may not amend. The Senate has the opportunity to reject a bill at the first reading stage, but in practice the first reading is normally passed without opposition and is regarded as a purely formal stage.
- Clerk of the Senate (29 June 2021). "Procedural Information Bulletin No. 356". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2 April 2022.
- "A Brief Guide to the Legislative Process". Oireachtas. Retrieved 24 Nov 2017.
- Dáil Standing Orders 147
- Seanad Standing Orders 144–148
- Dáil Standing Orders 148
- Seanad Standing Orders 149, 180
- Dáil Standing Orders 161
- Seanad Standing Orders 163
- Australian Senate, 'Consideration of legislation', Brief Guides to Senate Procedure, No. 9, Department of the Senate, Canberra.
- "A Brief Guide to the Legislative Process". Oireachtas. Retrieved 24 Nov 2017.
- Dáil Éireann (9 May 2017). "Consolidated Standing Orders of Dáil Éireann 2017" (PDF) (in English and Irish). Retrieved 24 Nov 2017.
- Seanad Éireann. Standing Orders relative to Public Business 2017 (PDF) (in English and Irish). ISBN 9781406429664. Retrieved 24 Nov 2017.